Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan meets Iranian President Hasan Rouhani in Tehran in February 2019. (photo: primeminister.am)

Armenia Urges US, Iran to De-Escalate Tensions

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YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — Armenia has called on neighboring Iran and the United States to de-escalate their tensions following the assassination of IranianGeneral Qassem Soleimani.

Official Yerevan also pledged over the weekend to maintain neutrality in the conflict while offering condolences to Tehran over the death of the powerful commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and his Armenian counterpart Zohrab Mnatsakanyan discussed the crisis in a phone call which the Armenian Foreign Ministry said was initiated by the Iranian side.

“On behalf of the Government of Armenia, Foreign Minister Mnatsakanyan expressed condolences to the Government and people of Iran on the demise of the high-ranking Iranian official,” the ministry said in a statement.

It added that Mnatsakanyan also “stressed the importance of preventing further tensions and de-escalating the situation through peaceful means.”

“Iran is a friendly country for us and the United States is a friendly country for us,” Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said later on Sunday. “In this situation we certainly cannot be drawn into anti-Iranian actions. We cannot be drawn into anti-American actions either.”

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“So our message is that our partners in Iran and the United States should refrain from steps that would aggravate the already tense situation in our region and international relations,” Pashinyan stressed in a live video address which he aired on Facebook during a hiking tour in northeastern Armenia.

Yerevan was quick to express serious concern after the US strike in Iraq on Friday, January 3, which killed Soleimani as well as other Iranian military officials and their Iraqi allies. But unlike Russia, Armenia’s main ally, it stopped short of explicitly condemning the assassination.

Soleimani’s killing raised fresh fears in Yerevan of a direct military conflict between the US and Iran which could further complicate Armenia’s transport and trade links to the outside world. Armenia’s top diplomats and military officials discussed potential consequences of the crisis at separate emergency meetings held on Friday.

Pashinyan said that he has instructed relevant state bodies to “closely monitor the situation” and make contingency plans. He declined to go into details.

With Armenia’s borders with Azerbaijan and Turkey closed due to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Iran as well as Georgia are the landlocked country’s sole conduits to the outside world. Successive Armenian governments have therefore maintained cordial relations with Tehran.

Pashinyan has repeatedly made clear over the past year that his administration will seek closer Armenian-Iranian political and economic ties despite the US sanctions against the Islamic Republic. He insisted in August that Washington is not pressuring Yerevan to curtail those ties.

With Armenia’s borders with Azerbaijan and Turkey closed due to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Iran as well as Georgia are the landlocked country’s sole conduits to the outside world. Successive Armenian governments have therefore maintained cordial relations with Tehran.

Pashinyan has repeatedly made clear that that his administration will seek closer Armenian-Iranian political and economic ties despite the US sanctions against Tehran. He insisted in August that Washington is not pressuring Yerevan to curtail those ties.

The Armenian leader went on to invite Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani to a summit of the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union held in Yerevan in October. Rouhani accepted the invitation.

Arrest of Imposter

In related news, Armenian authorities arrested a man over a Facebook post that claimed Pashinyan congratulated US President Donald Trump for assassinating Iran’s top military commander.

The National Security Service (SNB) on January 5 posted a video of the man being detained, saying the authorities had identified social-media users who had spread false information and harmed Armenia’s national-security interests.

The claim was made on a Facebook page set up by a man who used the false identity of Diana Arutyunian, the SNB said.

The SNB said the claim was “aimed at inciting national, racial and religious hostility.” It also said that the claim had been quoted by media in Azerbaijan and Iran.

The SNB said a criminal case had been launched. But the identity of the man arrested and held responsible for hosting the page was not revealed.

In the video released by the SNB, the man being detained admits that he created the page in 2018 and was responsible for the false claim about Pashinyan.

Pashinyan denied the claim in his own Facebook post, calling it “fake news.”

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